Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reflections from the Bowels of Movie Hell!! (Send Help!!!)

Ladies and gentlemen, I am officially in Movie Hell. Yup. I've looked around, squinting at my surroundings, hoping against hope that my premonitions are not correct, but I'm sure of it now and I've come to accept it. I'm in Movie Hell. And if you don't know by now, let me break it to you gently, you're here with me!!!

Cause you see according to Glenn Whip of MSN, we have officially reached the END OF SUMMER, the traditional darkness after the sunshine of the summer movie season, and blah, blah, blah, I know we don't have summer in Trinidad, but we're subject to the change in movie seasons just like the rest of the world.

So here we are fellow sufferers, but no need to fear for long. This wasteland has an end. Fall movies are on the way. In the meantime, one thing you can do in this dreary landscape is reflect on past pleasures...


Robin Hood

I don't think a lot of people saw Robin Hood this year. I ended up seeing it in the deadly row of horror at the movie theatre ie the front row where the only way to see the movie in any comfort is to crane your neck upwards and push your seat backward as far as it can go, and that is not very far at all. Despite the discomfort, I really enjoyed this movie and that attested to its quality.

Everyone knows the traditional Robin Hood story, but so little is known about the actual person, that filmmakers can toy with the details to their heart's content. Ridley Scott increased the scope of the story considerably. I'm not the person to ask if it was historically accurate, but I felt that I was watching an authentic tale. So we see a lot of the Crusades; of the living arrangements of the lords of England at the time; the troubled interactions of the royal family (is it ever anything but troubled?) This is the sort of thing I like, but have to trust to filmmakers that they are being as accurate as possible.

The characters made the rest of the movie for me. Cate Blanchett was sharp, and warm and sweet and earthy, playing a Maid Marion who spent her time labouring and working in the fields with everyone else. There is no time for luxury and soft pillows in her world. Cate Blanchett is lovely as usual. It may seem tired to be gushing over a spirited heroine yet again, but Blanchett fires her character with steel and courage, and she's a true daughter of the soil and makes us feel her weariness and determination.

Russel Crowe plays a Robin Hood reminiscent of Maximus Decimus Meridius' gentleness and gentlemanliness. He is disarmingly polite in the face of Maid Marion's disdain, and is clearly the Robin Hood who sympathized with the poor and fought because he has to and not cause he wanted to. I have a weakness for that type character. There's an element of Luke Skywalker, Aragorn of Arathorn and Frodo Baggins in that type of hero, and I can't get enough of it.

I like that the characters were supposed to be a little older than what is usually expected. When Robin of Loxley calls her a girl Marian observes, "Girl? Either you've grown blind or come looking for charity". They are both world weary and are happy for simple things, and I really enjoyed seeing them together.

Since the movie seems to be a prequel to the more well known legends of Robin Hood, we see many of the key characters developing like Friar Tuck, Prince John and the Merry Men which this sober Robin Hood needs to watch his back. I really appreciated the comic relief provided by the Merry Men especially Kevin Durand who I've really liked in Lost and who seems to enjoy his work and throws himself thoroughly into everything I've seen him in so far.

The critics didn't seem to enjoy this movie as much as I did, and I usually respect their opinions, but I really liked this and found it good fun.

Toy Story 3

I believe this should be on many people's movie of the year list. Pixar I do not know what magic elixir you use on your creative team, but I hope it never dries up.

I teared up during two scenes in Toy Story. The first would be the moment in the incinerator when they joined hands. We've seen characters in movies get ready to face their inevitable demise together, so I didn't think I would be affected as I realized what was happening, but it did. Pixar played this scene perfectly.

The other moment was of course when Andy went to give his toys away. It speaks a lot for my maturity that though I am older than Andy, I did not want him to do it. Yes, I knew it made sense. I knew it was the best thing to do for all involved, but the scene spoke to the side of me who used to keep my dolls boxed away all the time. I hardly played with them, but I liked to think of them stored away waiting for me. I used to take them out every now and then to make sure their hair was combed and their clothes neat. Yes, Andy's the better man.

But fear not, I'm not that selfish. I was far happier that Buzz and the gang were safe and content. I shared the sense of comfort that others probably felt. I was glad that the toys were in a safe new home with a child who would play with them and love them for a long time, and where there would be other toys to round out their family.

I don't know about anyone else, but it was good to see that Andy had grown up to be a good kid. He never failed his little friends. He took care of them and saw that they would be well taken care of. I thought it was just nice seeing that he was would grow into a good man. That single Mom of him raised him right. Good for her!

The people at Pixar have said that they like to drop in on these characters now and then because they are like real people to them. I think they succeeded in creating the same feelings in me.

The theme of loss was very strong in this movie. It's an inevitable part of being a toy and of course of our own lives like the Velveteen Rabbit, like Winnie the Pooh, like every toy ever. This the darkest movie in the lot I think, and I attribute most of this darkness to the innocuous looking Lotso, an old, soft, pink, strawberry smelling bear who's heart has died. The moment when he looks into the window and sees his little girl with another bear, something snaps in him and we can feel it. The way he pulled the baby doll away as well and its pained cry was at once heart wrenching and horrifying. Lotso chose to do the evil he did afterward, but I could not shake the pity I felt for him cause he was broken inside. That's hard to overcome.

However, despite all this depth, this movie was still joyous and fun and heartwarming with moments for characters to shine. The only criticism I've seen for Toy Story movies was the lack of female characters in it. This movie blew this trouble away by having the girls step up here. Barbie herself has a big part to play. Jessie and Mrs. Potato Head are key elements in the overall plot and have their moments of heroism, and the toys end up in the home of a wildly imaginative little girl with lovely toys led by a doll and with other female toys rounding out the group. Its not just a boy's club here anymore. (Thought it was a fantastic boys club to begin with I cannot lie.)

The story has marvellous humour, thrilling moments, and everything else a high calibre movie needs. Well done Pixar. Once more you've stepped forward without putting a foot wrong. Can't wait to see what's next.

Iron Man 2

Years ago I wrote about how much I loved Iron Man, and I knew I would love Iron Man 2, and I was right. Months later I can look back to my first official film of the summer with fondness. Why? Because Robert Downey Jr is captivating to watch, and no one else in the movie rivals him which is a testament to his charm. The fact that he could be rascally and difficult and still have the audience (read: me) on his side is also proof of his skill. His conversations with Gwyneth Paltrow are sometimes lightning quick, but they feel so very natural. Gwyneth fills the slot for my second favourite character. I really liked the direction they took with her, making her more than a secretary and making her the leading player in their business, outranking Tony Stark himself.

As usual, I was moved by the beauty of the "scenery", and I've put Tony Stark's home on my list of One-Day-I-Must-Haves. The hints of a greater comic book universe is such a nice little present for those of us who have some knowledge of that type of thing. So I smiled when I saw Captain America's shield; I grinned secretly at the references to SHIELD and I felt a great glad joy when SHIELD found Thor. (I am looking forward to Thor by the way. I have high hopes for it because I am anticipating it to have a strong mythological back ground and because it is being directed by Kenneth Brannagh, who I will one day blog about to showcase his greatness.)

This movie was of course imperfect. I miss Terrence Howard, and that is the only reason I don't like Don Cheadle as I should as he is very good here. I didn't think Scarlett Johanssen was very necessary. The villains were not fantastic, and adequate, but nothing was poor enough to detract from my enjoyment of this film. Wonderful job as usual Jon Favreau. (Favreau's role as Tony's chauffeur is great as well. A real pleasure to see.)


Some of you may recall that I was raving about Star Trek this time last year, and riding on a constant high because of it. I did not think such an event would be repeated again until 2012 when J. J. Abrams will repeat and surpass the brilliance of the first movie (prays). But miracles can happen, here I am riding the Inception wave with millions of other people and having a blast.

I saw this movie twice, each time with my brow furled in concentration, so I did not lose the thread of the narrative, and I understood it! (Just like that scene in the Rats of NIMH remember? Well perhaps, you haven't seen the Rats of NIMH, but you should.) I have often watched complicated movies and felt the plot points slipping through my brain like water through a sieve. This one held me, and even when I did not understand a detail, it did not prevent me from following this movie, and curling inwardly with suspense over this movie and gaping with my mouth open at this movie.

Inception has brilliant pacing. The story could have been so cold, but no it had me worrying about the characters and fearing for their fates. It has excellent acting as well. Believe it or not, this is my first Leonardo DiCaprio movie, and he is excellent in this, hitting so many emotions, and displaying so many complex feelings and drawing us into his misery. It was lovely to see Ellen Page who I adore, and who manages very well with a role which could have been uninteresting. My favourites here though are Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who I have shamefully ignored for years) and Tom Hardy who I saw in RocknRolla and did not recognize here. My reasons for liking them are simple. They are both the one man armies, the cool heroes, the sharply dressed James Bonds. In short, the kind of character I can dislike or love, and both manage to make me love them. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is smooth, steelly and impassive without being cold and block like, and he has the amazing physical scene in the revolving hallway which I cannot forget. Tom Hardy is calmly professional, but snarky and mischievous and clever as well. Their scenes together are a joy to watch, and that added to the fact that the whole cast plays their parts well is delicious.

Christopher Nolan has a reputation for making intelligent movies, and I like that the intelligence is a trait in his characters as well. I remember a critic saying that when he heard Bruce Wayne use the word "sycophants" in Batman Begins, he knew he was watching something special. I love that these characters are skilled at working with their minds - quite literally too! Together they come up with a scheme which reeks of careful thought, an understanding of the human psyche and audacious cleverness, and we get to see them discussing it. Ariadne creates complex structures in the real world and in dreamscapes. And the experienced members of the team, do their jobs, adapt to problems and overcome them all in their own heads. Amazing huh! I felt like I was watching intellectuals at work, and that's what they really are.

I've appreciated Chris Nolan's work in the past a great deal, but I was astonished at his ability to make a big budget action movie and a thinking one as well. I should have realized that was his strength when I watched the two last Batman movies, but I had to be reminded again here. I would ask you to take notes Michael Bay, but I don't think you'd read them.

So yeah, for once my Summer movie season started off high and ended on a high as well, and for that I am very grateful. Please feel free to comment and tell me how ridiculous I am or how brilliant; what movies I clearly did a disservice to; which ones I missed or all of the above if you wish.

2 comments: said...

i thought iron man 2 was excellent.i would go as far 2 say 3rd best comic book movie ever(2nd being watchmen,1 being dark knight).

robin hood was very dissapointing, gladiator is wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy better.

toy story was the very 1st movie i ever saw.i cried 4 times during toy story 3(1.)when they almost die,2.)in the beginning when they show andy growing up,3.)when they get saved by the little aliens and when mr.potatoe head says "my boys" and hugs them and the aliens say "daddy".

inception.we'll what can i say bout that movie that i havent said already:my favorite movie of all time.

Shari said...

You always write these reviews so well. You use the right descriptive words i can never find to fully explain how these movies affected me. That's how toy story 3 made me feel, it was truly the best movie of the season. I don't know how Pixar does it. Three fantastic movies in a row and we all know how almost impossible that is these days

I had to skip the Iron Man section though. I have not seen it yet and i want no spoilers. And because of what u said i definitely want to check out Inception and Robin Hood